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This Memorial Day, Wear a Poppy

When did Memorial Day become synonymous with, “Hey, we can get a queen-sized mattress at a discount?"

We had just moved into our newly purchased home at our newest duty station. As luck would have it, the oven that came with the house gave out just weeks after moving day.

“Well, Memorial Day is coming up soon, we can get on sale that weekend,” my husband said, barely glancing away from the television.

That rubbed me the wrong way -- the idea that he automatically associated Memorial Day with appliance sales. And, if I think about it, it can be associated with mattress sales, car sales, furniture sales ... the list goes on and on.

In 1868, Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed the official date of the first Memorial Day, writing in General Order No. 11: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

In 1921, inspired by a poem, a woman named Moina Michael wrote,

“We cherish too, the Poppy red, That grows on fields where valor led, It seems to signal to the skies, That blood of heroes never dies.”

Michael began wearing red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who had given their life in service to their country. Her idea spread to other countries around the world, and grew to be called the National Poppy movement.

Where are the poppies? Where are the graves strewed with flowers? If you find yourself, as most of our readers do, living near a military base, you see it. But in hundreds and thousands of cemeteries around the country, veterans’ graves sit barren; undecorated and without honor, on a day meant to sit in reverence of their service.

In a corporate world that jumps on any opportunity to lure a few more customers in their stores with a sale, it’s understandable that Memorial Day has become synonymous with discount. And, this Memorial Day, we’re in need of an oven, and we’re going to take advantage of it.

But, I also want to visit the veterans whose resting places don’t sit just outside the gates of a military installation. I want to decorate their graves, and strew flowers about. I want to wear a red poppy, and reflect on the magnitude of what this day means -- a day that was born out of the bloody fight that was our country’s Civil War, and that has come to encompass every brave man and woman who gives their lives in service to our nation and its citizens.

Memorial Day can mean many things to people. It can very well mean discount mattresses and ovens, or it can mean an extra day of pressing the snooze button on the alarm clock. It can mean a weekend of barbecue and beer, or the kickoff to summer.

But, I hope, it can also mean an honest moment of appreciation and gratitude for those who have fought for our freedoms. I’ve seen firsthand how hard the sacrifice can be for our troops; I’ve seen it in my husband’s eyes, and in my children’s questions about daddy’s job.

The ultimate sacrifice deserves recognition, and a discount mattress doesn’t cut it.

Wear a poppy. Decorate and strew flowers about our veterans’ graves. Memorial Day doesn’t have to be a completely solemn affair; those who have gone before fought for our right to sit back and enjoy a cold beer on a sunny afternoon with our family and friends.

And, they deserve to be honored for that fight.

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